Football: Chelsea reach European goal

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The Independent Online
Chelsea 1 Leeds United 0

A PLACE in the European Cup, which should have been Chelsea's 44 years ago, was finally secured last night. Denied the chance to take part in the first year of Europe's premier club competition in 1955 by the Football League's short-sightedness, they ensured with this deserved victory that Leeds cannot prevent them finishing in the top three and claiming a place in the qualifying round at the very least next season.

Moving to within one point of Manchester United, Chelsea could yet be runners-up and go straight into the Champions' League, which would be the club's best finish since winning that one previous title. Leeds must make do with the Uefa Cup, which their old lags came to hate in the 1970s, but which the current bright young side, knocked out of it early this season, will look forward to with relish.

"Fourth place is a fantastic achievement," David O'Leary, their manager, said. "It didn't take a rocket scientist to pick out which three teams would be up there, but we've won the other league." Last night they took too long to get into a tetchy game and might have been beaten by a greater margin than Gustavo Poyet's 67th-minute header. The Uruguayan Martin Peters arrived late in the penalty area to head his 13th goal of the season - a terrific tally for a midfielder who was out injured from Christmas to April.

Norman Hunter's presence in the press box was a reminder that there has been no love lost between the clubs these past 30 years. Last season two Leeds players were sent off in the corresponding fixture and when Dennis Wise thudded into Lee Bowyer early on to earn the night's first booking, he was putting his name down as prime candidate to warm the bath water for the rest.

In the event, yellow was the colour throughout, four other miscreants going into Jeff Winter's book. The tackle by one of them, Jonathan Woodgate, and Franck Leboeuf's reaction to it, led to a sharp exchange of views between O'Leary and Chelsea's player-manager Gianluca Vialli, who had to be kept apart by the fourth official Rob Harris - back in the firing line after sending off three West Ham players in Leeds' game at Upton Park on Saturday.

O'Leary said later: "There was one player there [Leboeuf] who 10 seconds later was sprinting round the pitch. Centre-halves used to be made of different stuff in may day."

While Chelsea brought Tore Andre Flo back, Leeds, with rather fewer options - as their manager has regularly reminded everyone - stuck to Saturday's team but soon looked in need of fresh legs. In a one-sided first half, Nigel Martyn had to make agile saves from Poyet's fierce drive and then Flo's low one.

The corner that followed the Norwegian's effort was back-headed across goal by Leboeuf and eventually fell for Marcel Desailly, whose shot hit David Batty. Three minutes from half-time, Zola moved to the right and crossed, enabling Flo, at full stretch, to test Martyn again with a firm header.

Leeds, taking 20 minutes to earn as much as a corner, had little to say in response to all this apart from the one save Ed de Goey was required to make in the 32nd minute, as the young Irish midfielder Stephen McPhail lunged at a Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink cross.

The latest scores relayed from White Hart Lane and Anfield were not what Chelsea wanted to hear, though Leeds supporters were loud in their encouragement to Arsenal and Liverpool against the common enemy, Manchester United. Their own team offered them greater reason for optimism in the opening period of the second half, as Bowyer and Harry Kewell began running at the home defence. Kewell shot wide, then straight at De Goey, who was also brought to his knees by Bowyer.

Poyet, however, was finding his range, heading a corner from Wise over the bar and then directing Graeme Le Saux's arrowed cross past Martyn.

There were few chances in the remaining 20 minutes as fatigue set in, despite Chelsea's substitutions and celebrations were soon underway. Vialli, played down the prospects of finishing higher, but sounded almost as satisfied as O'Leary with the season's work. "There's a few regrets, " he said, "but the top three teams have played out of their skins."

Chelsea (4-4-2): De Goey; Ferrer, Leboeuf, Desailly, Le Saux; Petrescu, Wise, Morris (Goldbaek, 66), Poyet; Flo (Di Matteo, 82), Zola (Forssel, 89). Substitutes not used: Hitchcock (gk), Duberry.

Leeds United (4-3-3): Martyn; Haaland, Woodgate, Radebe, Harte; Bowyer, Batty, McPhail (Hopkin, 86); Hasselbaink, Smith, Kewell. Substitutes not used: Robinson (gk), Wetherall, Wijnhard, Hopkin, Halle.

Referee: J Winter (Stockton).